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  • Writer's pictureJonathan Clark

Going Beyond the Basics of Circling

Updated: Dec 27, 2023

In any moment of circling, you have nearly infinite options — but you always have the same goal: be present with others. Going beyond the basics means exploring how to play with these possibilities once you feel present.

beyond the basics in circling

Before You Go Beyond the Basics

Developing your circling practice does not mean abandoning the basic moves you’ve learned so far. After all, the basics are great at bringing you and those around you into presence together.

But there are many moves that are less directly about establishing presence or that require presence to already be strongly established. These take you beyond the basics.

Just remember: “basic” moves are typically more reliable at building and maintaining presence, so don’t abandon them!

Your actions in a circle exist on a spectrum. Some get you more present, others do not. Still others have little effect either way. Owning your impact in a circle means navigating this spectrum.

Things to Try in Circling

1. Experiments

An experiment is a move that is done to observe its effect on the circle and/or the people in it.

Examples of experiments include:

  • Requesting everyone take three deep breaths together

  • Standing up while everyone else is sitting down

  • Holding eye contact with one person for an extended period of time

As you can see, there are all sorts of experiments you can do. If you do one, remember to be careful and observant of its effects, as an experiment that takes everyone out of presence is not really in the service of circling.

2. Leaning into your edge

As long as you feel safe to do so, circling can be a great opportunity to lean into your edge. This is the point at which your actions feel much less “safe” than in normal life but do not feel truly threatening.

Once you keep an eye out for it, you’ll find your edge everywhere. In a circle, it’s basically any move that you feel an aversion to — except for moves that you feel an extreme aversion to (making those moves could push you over the edge).

Examples of leaning into your edge include:

  • Disclosing stories you have about someone that might be embarrassing for you or them

  • Allowing an uncomfortable moment to sit, taking the time to observe the feelings it brings up in you rather than changing the situation

  • Saying, “I’m bored!” — covered in detail next

3. “I’m bored!”

Circling gives us a chance to interact without the rules of politeness. One of the best ways to explore this is by being radically honest about how you are connecting (or not connecting) to the group in the moment.

A perfect example is when you are bored by an interaction. Rather than putting up with it, try disclosing how you feel. Saying you’re bored when you’re bored is something you might never do in day-to-day life, but in a circle, it’s a completely valid move.

Doing this also exercises your muscle to fully disclose what is going on with you, even if it isn’t polite — a key skill in circling.

Regularly picking honesty in circling over the impulse to caretake the experience of others can lead to explosive personal growth in your life. When we feel bored, we usually don’t say it because we tell ourselves a story that the people around us would be hurt or offended by that. Once we start interrogating the impulse to believe this story, we can release ourselves from a lot of unnecessary stress and anxiety.

4. Beyond the basic debrief

Debriefs after a circle are your chance to talk shop. Use them, especially if you make moves that go beyond the basics. Checking in with others can give you valuable insights into the effect your moves make.

When difficult moments come up in a circle, the debrief is the perfect time to formulate what good moves to make if that kind of moment reappears in the future. That way, you’ll have a chance to remember that new option.

Debriefs are also a chance to slow down and run through events. When you build a clear timeline, you can better assess the impact of certain choices.

Most of all debriefs give you the space to absorb and explore insights that the circle gave you. Sometimes, a 20-minute circle can result in an hour-and-a-half-long debrief. If that happens, embrace all the learning you can.

5. Returning to the Basics

The basic moves of circling are extremely effective. When they remain a central part of the practice, it’s almost always in the service of presence with others.

For that reason, making sure that you keep using your basic moves and continue to emphasize them is key.

This includes things like:

  • slowing down

  • keeping with your sensations

  • choosing present experience over ideas and personal history

  • asking curious questions to understand another’s experience

Growing Your Circling Practice

The entire purpose of going beyond the basics is to experiment with your circling practice. There are no defined limits, so why not explore?

For more info on circling, check out these posts:

And check out this episode of the podcast:

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